Much-needed ovarian cancer breakthroughs are in the sights of Professor David Bowtell

Professor Bowtell announced as head of Ovarian Cancer Research at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

Professor David Bowtell, Head of Garvan's Ovarian Cancer Research Lab

Media Release: 24 February 2016

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research announces the appointment of Professor David Bowtell as head of its Ovarian Cancer Research program. 

To mark Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day, the Garvan Institute and Ovarian Cancer Australia are hosting a lunch at Parliament House, Sydney to promote the need for increased awareness about ovarian cancer, and increased funding for medical research. 

Professor Bowtell (who holds joint appointments with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne and is a visiting Professor at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston) is a true world-leader in ovarian cancer research. He is also leader of the Australian Ovarian Cancer Study (AOCS), one of the largest and most sophisticated studies of ovarian cancer in the world.

His work has fundamentally changed the way we think about ovarian cancer, and continues to provide substantial insight into the diversity and biology of ovarian cancer. Professor Bowtell’s extensive work has also contributed to clinical trials of new treatments, and treatment combinations.

Of his appointment, Professor Bowtell says, “I am delighted to be joining the innovative and committed team of researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.  I was attracted to this position by the fact that Garvan is at the forefront of technological and intellectual innovation, and has a wonderful community of passionate supporters with a real interest in medical research.

“I am particularly excited by the possibilities that Garvan’s genome-sequencing technology provides.  My team will have an unparalleled ability to undertake whole genome sequencing of ovarian tumours, and I believe this will vastly increase our understanding of this disease and lead to better, safer and more effective personalised therapies.

“Over the past decade, the view of ovarian cancer has changed radically.  We now understand that ovarian cancer is not one disease, but a collection of distinct diseases, each with different cellular origins and molecular characteristics.  They simply share a location in the body.”

Despite extensive research efforts, survival has improved very little in the last 20 years.  Early detection and treatment is rare, with around 75 per cent of patients diagnosed with advanced cancer.

However, discovering the role of genetic mutations offers substantial opportunities for, not only improved treatment for women with ovarian cancer, but also of reducing the risk in their female relatives.

“My focus is on the analysis of genetic mutations, and using this information to develop new therapies, as well as addressing some of the most significant issues in the treatment of ovarian cancer including chemoresistance and risk reduction,” Professor Bowtell says.

Professor Bowtell and his team’s research efforts will be based around three particular projects:

  • Discovering new therapies for women with ‘high-grade serous cancer’ – the most common type of ovarian cancer – and who are resistant to chemotherapy
  • Analysing the medical, lifestyle, environmental and genetic information of the small percentage of women who defy the odds and become long-term survivors of ovarian cancer. The aim is to then use this information to develop better treatment regimes, combining medical and non-medical approaches
  • Improving on existing understanding of gene mutations, and how these combine to increase heritable risk of ovarian cancer. Ultimately, the aim is to use this information to provide more personalised treatments to individuals based on the genetic profile of their tumour (not its location), as well as offering risk-reduction strategies for female relatives who carry the same genes.

However, without the support of the community, Professor Bowtell and his team cannot carry out this innovative and vital research.

This Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Ovarian Cancer Australia are working together to remind Australians of the true impact of ovarian cancer and the urgent need for breakthroughs in medical research. 

Mr Andrew Giles, CEO of the Garvan Research Foundation said, “At the Garvan Institute, we have some of the most-gifted and innovative researchers in the country.  We have world-leading technology at our finger tips.  However, we must rely on the community to recognise the importance of our work, and support it with donations. It is only with community support that we will see the true potential of this research come to fruition.”

Ms Jane Hill, CEO of Ovarian Cancer Australia said, “There has been no significant change in the treatment options for women with ovarian cancer for many years, despite a fundamental new understanding of the disease and some of the best researchers in the world in Australia. More research is needed to understand how ovarian cancer initiates, why it develops rapidly in some and not others, and how we can circumvent resistance to treatment. We need better therapies, better models of care, and better quality of life for women with ovarian cancer,” she said.

To donate to the Garvan Institute of Medical Research’s Ovarian Cancer Research Project, call 1300 73 66 77, or visit

 ~ ENDS ~

Media contacts:

To organise an interview with Professor Bowtell, or someone diagnosed with ovarian cancer, please contact:

 Garvan Research Foundation:

Kylie Ironside

Head of Communications

0413 611 959 or

 Garvan Research Foundation:

Anna Greenhalgh

Communications Coordinator

0437 282 467 or

 Ovarian Cancer Australia:

Nicolette Baxter

Ph. 0438 143 342 or



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